On a standard 25-man major league roster, it is common to deploy a 12-man pitching staff consisting of a five-man starting rotation and seven relievers.
As the St. Louis Cardinals returned to action Friday evening in Cincinnati, rested from the four-day All-Star break, manager Tony La Russa gave each of the seven members of his bullpen the ball over just the game’s final four innings.
After taking the heat for sticking with his starters perhaps too long in several games prior to the break, La Russa took a more aggressive stance on Friday. He pulled starter Jake Westbrook after the inconsistent right-hander allowed two solo home runs over five innings.
More accurately, the seven Cardinals relievers only pitched the final 3 2/3 innings or 11 outs. The battle ended with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Brandon Phillips launched the game-winning two-run home run off Cardinals closer Fernando Salas. The final score was 6-5, with both Mitchell Boggs and Salas logging blown saves. Kyle McClellan, not scheduled to start until this coming Wednesday, would have been La Russa’s next pitcher if needed.
Friday marked only the 13th time since 1919 that the Cardinals used seven relief pitchers in a nine-inning game. Given today’s pitching specialization, it comes as no surprise that eight of the 13 came on the watch of La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Eight of the 13 games also resulted in a St. Louis defeat, though not the same eight.
The Cardinals record is nine relievers called upon in a Troy Percival spot start to conclude the disappointing 2007 campaign. It was at a time when rosters were expanded and the Cardinals were not preparing for post-season play.
With the exception of 2008, the Cardinals have had one seven-reliever game each season since 2004. The 2010 occurrence was on September 18, a game in San Diego during which McClellan, the Cardinals’ sixth reliever, took the loss.
Researcher Tom Orf points out that interestingly, this Friday’s game was the first time that the final pitcher in one of these seven-reliever games was saddled with the loss.
After a strong start to his reign as closer, in the last month Salas has been less than automatic. Since June 16, he has two wins and three losses and converted five of seven save opportunities.
St. Louis Cardinals, seven or more relievers in nine-inning game, since 1919
* only last reliever loss
(Including extra innings games, the list jumps to 33.)